Building Leapfrog Into the #1 Educational Learning Brand
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Holmes Report
CEO

Building Leapfrog Into the #1 Educational Learning Brand

Southard Communications was challenged to create and execute a comprehensive p.r. program to familiarize parents, grandparents, educators, children and the media with, and ultimately drive sales of educational learning aids from LeapFrog.

Paul Holmes

 

This campaign conceived and implemented on behalf of LeapFrog delivered considerable value in helping Leapfrog 1) build its brand name with consumers, while also 2) driving fourth quarter product sales. The results were impressive and included:  For the first time in the history of the toy industry, LeapPad, an educational product, was the # 1 seller in the month of December, with sales in excess of $20 million. These sales exceeded those of Barbie, Robotic Dogs and even the Razor Scooter during the month of December. Additionally, LeapPad was voted the People’s Choice Award for Product of The Year, as part of the Toy of the Year Awards (TOTY) program held in February 2001 by the Toy Manufacturers of America.

Company sales in 2000 grew by more than 130% to nearly $180 million, making LeapFrog the fastest growing company in the toy industry, during a year when average annual growth was less than six percent.

SITUATION/OBJECTIVE

Southard Communications was challenged to create and execute a comprehensive p.r. program to familiarize parents, grandparents, educators, children and the media with, and ultimately drive sales of educational learning aids from LeapFrog, including the LeapPad Learning Center, and other associated products as part of the emerging line of educational products.  The LeapPad brings real paper books to life right before a child’s eyes and ears through use of a special stylus/pen that sounds out individual letters and words when they are touched.  With the child in control, LeapPad would also read entire stories, at the pace in which the individual child was most comfortable.  Additionally, children could touch pages containing a map of the United States to hear the names of states/cities, their population, approximate area, distances; touch a page with instruments and hear their musical sounds; touch a page depicting the human body to hear the names of individual body parts; and much more.  

DETAILED SITUATION ANALYSIS

LeapFrog, the company that manufactures the LeapPad, had only been in existence for six years.  Despite winning more than 50 awards and accolades for its other learning products and being a part of Knowledge Kids, a company owned in part by Michael Milken, focus groups conducted by LeapFrog’s advertising agency and media polls conducted by Southard Communications revealed that the company did not enjoy brand recognition among its target audiences.  

Additionally, the company was launching several new products during the fourth quarter, a time when other toy companies with greater brand awareness with the media were seeking coverage for their products as well, in order to drive holiday sales.

“Educational” toys are generally not perceived as being “fun.”  While parents would prefer to have their children play with a toy that provides educational value, most will ultimately buy the toy that the child has specifically requested (which, until now, has almost never been an educational toy).

We were also challenged with stealing thunder from already established brands such as Barbie and Pokemon that traditionally top the best selling toy lists every year – and were competing with hot new toys, such as Robotic Dogs and Razor Scooter.

THE PLANNING PROCESS    

The agency in concert with senior marketing and sales management team from LeapFrog developed an aggressive, year-round public relations campaign that centered on building the brand awareness of LeapFrog products through consumer media placements, while helping to drive sales of LeapPad and other products during the critical fourth quarter.  Our main objective was to generate coverage in media outlets that had the potential to have an impact on our target audiences of potential purchasers -- parents, educators, grandparents and children. 

STRATEGIC APPROACH/EXECUTION

We decided that our approach had to be extremely aggressive and multi-faceted if we were to meet our goals over the course of the calendar year 2000. Our campaign consisted of the following:

National Media  & Toy Experts “Sneak Preview” Prior To Toy Fair. In advance of Toy Fair, we provided a select group of influential national media, such as USA Today, The New York Times and key toy experts, such as Chris Byrne, “The Toy Guy” with exclusive product previews.

Aggressive Media Campaign At Toy Fair 2000.  The agency coordinated in excess of 40 on-site product tours/interviews with LeapFrog executives at their Showroom at the Toy Building.

LeapBabies Promotional Campaign Timed With Leap Day/Year. The agency conceived of a national promotional campaign entitled “ LeapFrog Loves Leap Babies” as a means of leveraging 2000 as a leap year to drive product awareness and branding. This campaign including the company providing babies born both on February 29th with a gift package, while providing all babies born during this Leap Year with an additional product package. The campaign was launched primarily through public relations and exceeded expectations.

Seasonal Consumer Media Mailing. Throughout the spring and summer months, the agency coordinated a series of mailings to consumer lifestyle and educational reporters on behalf of LeapFrog. These mailings were customized and promoted LeapPad as “an excellent gift for summer travel and for back to school.”

Christmas In July. To generate significant consumer media coverage in long-lead consumer parenting and general interest magazines, the agency conducted a “mini Toy Fair” event, billed as Christmas In July at which a series of “hot” toy products were unveiled. This workshop included a group of LeapFrog products.

Toy Tests/Toy Experts. The agency compiled information and gathered product samples that were submitted to more than 40 of the world’s leading toy testing organizations, including Duracell Toy Survey and Toy Tips.

Fall PlayDate 2000. The agency coordinated media interviews at an annual industry Fall exhibit – PlayDate, at which we generated significant press coverage.

Sent LeapPad to Hosts of National Morning and Talk Shows, particularly those nationally recognized hosts with children, such as Rosie O’Donnell, Katie Couric and Ann Curry. The agency also donated LeapPads to Rosie O’Donnell’s charity that resulted in two(2) separate appearances on her show during the fourth quarter of 2000.

Aggressive Fourth Quarter Holiday Outreach This included the creation of an intriguing holiday mailing that included several toy clients, in order to lessen the chances of being put aside as being too self-serving or commercial.  Followed with very aggressive one-on-one calling campaign. We also provided product and information to Chris Byrne, “The Toy Guy,” who routinely conducts a media tour, as a means of generating excellent local and national broadcast coverage.

PROGRAM SUCCESS/OBSTACLES OVERCOME

The most telling indicator of the success of the LeapPad launch program is that the product was the # 1 seller in the month of December; the #1 educational product of the year; had 4 of the top 10 selling educational products for the year 2000; was named the People’s Choice as the most popular toy in 2000; and the company increased sales by more than 130 percent – taking over leading market share in the educational toys marketplace. Lastly, the agency generated significant media coverage – more 725 print placements, 93 broadcast hits and 12 national broadcast segments in the fourth quarter along. This generated in excess of 110,000,000 consumer impressions. Combined with previous placements, the agency and LeapFrog generated almost 200 million consumer impressions in 2000.  
Broadcast highlights included segments on The Rosie O’Donnell Show, CBS’s The Early Show, NBC’s Today Show, Conan O’Brien ; and on national cable outlets such as CNN, CNNfn, Bloomberg News and PBS.  Local market publicity consisted of segments in television stations in the top 30 markets, including Washington DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Detroit, Dallas, Tampa, San Francisco and Seattle.  Print highlights included feature placements in Parade, Time, U.S. News & World Report, The New York Times (syndicated), LA Times (syndicated), USA Today (syndicated), The New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Gannett News Service (syndicated), Parents, American Baby and Family Life, to name a few.

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